As anyone who has ever pulled an all nighter in college or basically lived at the office to get a product launched can tell you, for most of us deadlines are quite motivating. Having that big red circle on your calendar coming closer and closer is the only way to get yourself towards meeting the goals you’ve set for yourself, right?
Not really, suggests a thought-provoking recent post from entrepreneur James Clear. While time pressure may have a place in driving you to overcome that final hurdle to an important achievement, Clear argues that if you really want to accomplish more, you need to swap schedules for deadlines.
What he’s advocating isn’t meandering around aimlessly with no specific end date in mind, of course. Instead, Clear advises we focus less on that endpoint and more on the process to structure our time. If we fixate on where we want to get to and "don’t magically hit the arbitrary timeline that we set in the beginning,” he warns, “then we feel like a failure -; even if we are better off than we were at the start. The end result, sadly, is that we often give up if we don’t reach our goal by the initial deadline." So what does he suggest instead?
In my experience, a better way to approach your goals is to set a schedule to operate by rather than a deadline to perform by. Instead of giving yourself a deadline to accomplish a particular goal and then feeling like a failure if you don’t achieve it, you should choose a goal that is important to you and then set a schedule to work towards it consistently. That might not sound like a big shift, but it is.
The complete post walks you through what this looks like day-to-day, using diverse goals from exercise to writing. It doesn’t matter what you’re trying to accomplish, the same principle applies, he writes:
Productive and successful people practice the things that are important to them on a consistent basis. The best weightlifters are in the gym at the same time every week. The best writers are sitting down at the keyboard every day. And this same principle applies to the best leaders, parents, managers, musicians, and doctors.
The strange thing is that for top performers, it’s not about the performance, it’s about the continual practice. The focus is on doing the action, not on achieving X goal by a certain date.
If Clear has convinced you that you need to spend less energy setting goals and more setting practice schedules, then the next logical question is how to get the most out of all that practise. It’s a question for which psychologists have answers, including being deliberate in how you approach practice and making sure you get plenty of rest.
Are you too obsessed with end points and not enough with regular practice?